Deliberative Democracy

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Updated: Jan 19, 2019
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Category: Politics
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How it works


Deliberative democracy is about making collective decisions & exercising power in ways that trace in some way to the reasoning of the equals who are subject to the decisions Main point (Cohen, 2009). The main practice of deliberative democracy is the use of deliberative counseling to gather public opinions. Deliberative democracy is about reasoning together among equals, and that means not simply advancing considerations that one judges to be reasons, but also finding considerations that others can reasonably be expected to acknowledge as good reasons. Deliberation focuses on considerations of the common good, and also basic personal liberties are essential elements of a deliberative democracy. It focuses on reason-giving and rational argument. Finally, collective decisions will always be made through voting, under some form of majority rule.

As Hong Kong mainly relied on electoral democracy, the current political situation reveals that this decision making way cannot reflect the real opinions. Some people suggested that Hong Kong should change the mode of democracy, yet some of them think that Deliberative Democracy cannot apply on Hong Kong due to the political environment. This paper is going to analyze the advantages and disadvantage of Deliberative Democracy, also to discussion whether it can apply on Hong Kong or not.

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Three features of a deliberative democracy

The public discuss and decide the social issue through a fair and equal decision-making model. There are three features of deliberative democracy. First, a public deliberation should focus on the common good. Parties should only be responsive to demands that are “argued for openly by reference to a conception of the public good”, but not to “take a narrow or group interested standpoint”. Second, the political opportunities and power must equal, it must independent from economic or social position. The political agenda is not controlled by the interests of economically and socially dominant groups. Third, shaping the identity and interests of citizens. The democratic politics should be ordered in ways that provide a basis for self-respect, that encourage the development of a sense of political competence, and that contribute to the formation of a sense of justice. Thus, they can understand themselves and their own legitimate interests.

Ideal deliberative procedure

Joshua Cohen proposed ideal deliberative procedure. This aims to give an explicit statement of the conditions for deliberative decision-making that are suited to the formal conception, and thereby to highlight the properties that democratic institutions should embody. Also, to provide a model for institutions to mirror. There are five procedure of ideal deliberative democracy. First, ideal deliberation is free. It must fulfill by 2 two conditions. The participants regard themselves as bounded by the results of their deliberation and by the preconditions for theat deliberation. A certain decision is arrived at through their deliberation as a sufficient reason for complying with it. Second, deliberation is reasoned. The parties are required to state their reasons for advancing proposals. Collective choices should be made in a deliberative way, and nor only that those choices should have a desirable fit with the preferences of citizens. Third, parties are both formally and substantively equal. Formally, they are equal in that the rules regulating the procedure. Substantively, they are equal in that the existing distribution of power and resources does not shape their chances to contribute to deliberation. Fourth, the aims to arrive at a rationally motivated consensus. It is persuasive to all who are committed to acting on the results of a free and reasoned assessment of alternatives by equals.

The downside of deliberative democracy

Deliberative democracy is unfavour to underprivileged and minorities. Although the process of consultation emphasizes respect, some citizens in the community are good at expressing themselves while others are not, such as women, low income group and ethnic minorities. Due to the family background and limited resources, they have lower chance to obtain education. Thus, they cannot form compelling arguments as there is insufficient resources, opportunities, and knowledge authorities. Also, some of the citizens do not care about the social issue, underprivileged have no time to do not pay much attention to social issue as they need to put much effort on working to earn money. Citizens may lack sufficient subject matter information to understand the issue (Coleman & Gotze, 2001). Even there are more convenient means for the access to information, interest group with more resource and money can impose their own beliefs on the underprivileged which is beneficial to those interest group. As the information of social media and mass media may mislead to the public believing in information which is incorrect and have bias. The biased information that spread by the media can reinforce particular groups’ interest and power, the public may not distinguish whether the statement is right or wrong. In addition, when citizens get together, they often lose control, fail to engage in rational discussions and cannot consider about what is public interest (Sanders, Wright & Horn, 1997).

Homogenous group dominated the discussion. In society, upper class and elites control the way of people go to the forum and discussion, they can also make the arrangement and setting more favourable to them but not performing equal opportunities and power. Group discussion imposes normative pressure on group members. Homogenous group will be dominated the arguments that embraced by the majority while bad for outsiders. Also, only few of the citizens participated in the discussion, it can only reveal a few people’s opinions and ignore powerless group’s opinion. With the spread of social media, it may only reinforce the mainstream idea but ignore the view of minorities. Hence, the society become more and more unfair and injustice.

Catalyze the social division and confrontation. The most significant function of deliberative democracy is to solve the conflict of the issue in a society. However, during the process of discussion, participants are often presented with their real preferences and only focus on their own interest, they do not consider the whole interest of the society, and therefore trigger conflicts and clash easily. Finally, it cannot come up with conclusion.

Deliberative democracy involved huge expense, time cost and manpower. This attempt need for long-term discussion in order to make the best conclusion, repeated discussion is needed in Deliberative democracy. Also, hiring professional consultant and specialist involved high cost. They may have knowledge gap between specialist and grassroots so the representative may need to prepare and read the information before the discussion. Everything are using the public fund, thus, a part of public fund is used on it.

The advantages of deliberative democracy

Deliberative democracy emphasizes respect, freedom and equality. It can fully realize the values of democracy, including freedom equality. They committed to advance the common good but not only focus on own interest. Also, people committed to respect individual autonomy, they are willing to listen to others. Besides, they committed to resolve problems through rational deliberation among free and equal citizens.

Deliberative democracy promotes justice. Justice is fixed by impartial reasoning in hypothetical conditions in which agents aim to justify principles to others, then, arguably, we will only achieve justice if we make collective decisions using reasoning of a similar kind.

Deliberative democracy would realize an ideal of self-government or political autonomy under conditions of reasonable pluralism. Political decisions are not simply a product of power and interests. Even citizens whose views do not win out can see that the decisions are supported by good reasons, they would accept the results of deliberative process.

Moreover, deliberative democracy can avoid bribes as focus on providing persuasive statement to convince the participants and public. Also, it can encourage the political participant in the society, it can provide platform for people can communicate with government and other stakeholders directly.

After understanding the issue clearly, people can engage in the conversation seriously and rationally. The issue can be informed to the public in different perspectives.

Application to Hong Kong

Setting up more informal public square, citizens can express their views in public square, more discussion space can remove the blockade of the participants so that they can talk to each other face-to-face. Also, media can be a tools and platform for them to disclose their opinions, it can remove any geographical and time barriers for them and provide more convenient ways. It can promote public debate and encourage the participatory level of the public. District councils can adopt the idea of Deliberative Democracy to discuss the local issues with the community member, especially the issue of the local community. As the community area is small and every community members live closely with each other, high population concentration can allow them to discuss in the public place more effective and open.

The South Korean government has recently carried out Deliberative Democracy to decide whether to scrap the project to build two nuclear reactors in a southern city as part of a policy shift toward safer, renewable energy sources. The President Moon Jae-in pointed out the attempt was intended to overcome such limits through deliberative democracy that lies in between representative democracy and direct democracy, it is meaningful in that it has opened the door for citizens to directly handle issues of their own concern. Deliberative Democracy can help state the affairs clearly and provide two-ways communications and interactions for them to know deeply about the issue. Despite the fact that the cost is high, it is worth for discuss for long time with different stakeholders so as to come up with the best decision to avoid unnecessary expenditure in the future.


Deliberative Democracy can be problem-solving way in certain extend. Deliberative Democracy may not suitable for the issue that need to solve immediately as it requires long time and high cost. However, it can instead of electoral democracy. Before the vote, the government should listen to opinions and suggestions during policy making in Hong Kong, especially the majority of the Hong Kong people. Also, it can ensure the voice of minorities can be listened under fair and justice scaling process of the participants. Opinions can be listen to and they can convince with each other. To conclude, Deliberative Democracy can promote freedom and democracy in a society if there are high transparency of the process of discussion.

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Deliberative Democracy. (2019, Jan 19). Retrieved from